Collecting Bukowski

Rarity

Books, in and of themselves, have no real intrinsic value beyond the weight of the paper used. There are many extremely rare books that can be had at bookstores, thrift stores and online for a couple of dollars. If a title is rare (and by rare I mean that very few copies of it exist), but nobody is interested in owning it, it has no value. Books and publications by Charles Bukowski are sought after by collectors so the relative rarity of a title can make a huge difference in the monetary value of a book (or broadside). In general, the less common the book, the higher its price. This is particularly true of earlier publications. It should also be noted that the importance of the book in terms of its place in the oeuvre of an author: for example Story Magazine (first appearance in print), Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail (first book) and Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with Beasts (first appearance of the character Henry Chinaski) can add to the value and desirability of a title.

Most early Bukowski publications were bought by people who were interested in reading the poetry and were not treated as collectibles to be handled carefully and saved. Because of this, early publications were often dragged around in buses and on park-benches, read in coffee shops and on the toilet, left on coffee tables and used as coasters, passed around to friends and generally mistreated... eventually ending up in the trash. Periodicals were particularly prone to this read-it and toss-it treatment, and most of these were issued in very small numbers to begin with. Black Sparrow Press changed that by issuing Limited Editions that were beautifully designed, had high production values and were presented (and priced) in such a way that they would appeal primarily to collectors (who would not be prone to mishandling them).

Determining the monetary value of the books

Placing a price on rare books is difficult in that it changes practically every time a copy is sold. Websites like ABE that have listings from hundreds of booksellers will often show a wide range of prices for the same issue of a book in similar condition. Determining a fair price for a book involves some research. The best way that I've found is to take the range of prices from sites like ABE and watch ebay for sales of that title (though many of the truly rare titles never turn up on Ebay or are priced so high by the seller that they don't sell). The real value of the book will usually be somewhere between the two. If a book is listed at an average of $500 on ABE and typically sells for around $250 on ebay, a realistic value for that book would probably be around $350-400 assuming that the books are in similar condition.

Extremely rare items, such as Genius of the Crowd and Signature 1 are harder to place a value on since they rarely come up for sale, and when they do they tend to be priced for hard-core collectors with deep pockets, sometimes going unsold for long periods of time. This is not to say that the items are overpriced but that they are, in a way, priceless.

The bottom-line is that any collectible (and not just books) is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it at a given time.

Condition

"Condition is King" is the rule for book collectors. The better the condition... the more desirable and the higher the price. The difference in price between a Fine copy of a book and a Very Good copy of the same book can be enormous.

Book Grading is a means to keep everyone on the same page when it comes to describing the condition of a book. Problems can arise when a seller (usually on ebay) lists a book using grading terms without understanding what they mean ("The book looks fine to me"), or if a buyer, also not understanding grading, buys a book properly described as being in "Good" condition which then arrives looking like hell. Needless to say, if you collect books it's helpful to know some of the terminology.

These are common grades and what they mean:

As New / Very Fine (also sometimes referred to as Mint) - A flawless copy. The book is in the same condition as it was immediately after the final stage of production with no defects. The dustjacket (if it was issued with one) is perfect with the original finish and with no tears or clipping. Some books never even make it out of the bindery in such great condition.

Fine - Nearly "As New" but with subtle signs of handling and/or age. It may have been carefully read and/or may have barely noticeable signs of shelfwear. There should normally be no defects, but if it does have a small defect, or looks worn, this should be noted (i.e. top right corner lightly bumped, else Fine).

Near Fine - Fine save for very minor defects such as small barely noticeable stains, very minor scuffing or rubbing to the dustjacket, minor but noticeable shelfwear, etc. Specific defects should be noted. There is another term sometimes used: Very Near Fine. Not technically a grading term but helpful in describing a book that might pass as Fine without very close inspection. It falls between Fine and Near Fine.

Very Good - Pretty much the lowest collectible grade. A Very Good book shows signs of wear and handling. May have a gift inscription inside or a owners bookplate or signature. May have bumped corners, a slightly damaged dustjacket with small closed tears. Must not be missing any pages and the binding should still be solid. Overall a desirable but far from perfect copy.

Good - Good is not "good." Good describes a copy that has been around the block a few times. The only requirement is that the book be complete and not falling apart. It can have a dirty cover, a torn or missing dustjacket, writing and notations throughout the book, etc. My take on Good: A Good copy is only desirable as a reading copy, or in the case of rare and expensive books, a placeholder in your collection. For example, if you can find a $250 copy of the signed and numbered Post Office in "Good" condition, it can make a good placeholder until you can locate a "Fine" copy that you can afford (provided it won't damage your other books as is the case with mold or mildew).

Fair - A mess. Only (barely) suitable for reading, though if someone would like to offer me a "Fair" copy of Genius of the Crowd or Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail for fifty bucks, let me know.

Poor - A worse mess. Don't bother.

Exlib - A withdrawn library copy. Rarely found in collectible condition. Will probably be well-worn, have stamps, pockets, glue from pasted on dustjackets, etc. Sometimes of interest because of unusual bindings.

BCE - A bookclub edition. Bookclub editions are usually printed on cheap paper and are issued after the first trade edition. Collectible in rare instances when, for example, it was the only hardbound issue of a title. To my knowledge, there was never a bookclub edition of a Bukowski title.

Note: Books with a jacket are usually described thus: F/NF or F/VG. The letter(s) before the slash describing the book and the letter(s) following the slash describing the dustjacket. F/NF = a Fine book in a Near Fine dustjacket.

Other terms worth knowing

As Usual means that there is a defect that is common to that title. A good example would be the hardcover first edition of Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which typically has light fading to the top and bottom edges of the boards. When a very common defect such as this is not too prominent, it has little effect on the value of the book, though it may make a copy without this defect much more valuable.

First Edition - A First Edition can encompass several printings of a title, but reputable booksellers will normally state if the book is a later printing. Collectors usually want a first printing of the first edition. If you're considering buying a book online that the seller lists as a First Edition, you may want to specifically ask the seller if it is a first printing unless you have dealt with the seller before and know his practices.

Inscribed - Watch this one. It could either mean A) the book was signed by the author with an additional inscription to the recipient, or B) someone gave the book to someone else and wrote a "Happy Birthday" or "Merry Christmas" note in it. Read descriptions carefully. Most sellers will differentiate and make it clear if the inscription is from the author or not. Some, either unintentionally or otherwise, will not. If it is not clear from the description... ask.

Flatsigned - Not really a booksellers term, but one you are likely to come across if you use ebay. It means that the book has been signed by the author, directly on or inside of the book (not on a bookplate) and has no additional inscriptions such as "For Sally."

Foxing - Small reddish-brown stains. I've seen this ascribed to iron particles in the paper reacting with moisture, to mildew and to paper acidity. Whatever causes it, it's ugly. If you have a book with foxing keep it in a dry well-ventilated place to avoid worsening of the condition. The good news is that it's uncommon in Black Sparrow books because of the high quality of the materials used and it does not spread to other books as mold and mildew can.

Bound-In, Tipped-In, Laid-In - These describe something that has been added to the book, either by the publisher or later by an owner or seller. Bound-In means that the object (in Bukowski books typically a painting, drawing or silkscreen) has been bound with the rest of the book and is sewn in permanently. Tipped-In means that the object was added in a semi-permanent manner after the book was bound (usually by applying a thin strip of glue or book paste along the inside edge). Laid-In means that the object is loose in the book and can be easily removed. You will sometimes find books with a review slip or prospectus laid-in.

ARC (Advance Review Copy) - A pre-publication edition of a book which is soon to be released. Typically sent to reviewers and sometimes to booksellers to promote interest in the title before it hits the shelves. They are collectible and can sometimes be found at reasonable prices, but should not be confused with a True First Edition.

Proof - There are two types of proof. The first basically serves the same purpose as an ARC though it may be uncorrected or in a state of editing that is slightly different than the final version. The other type is an Internal Proof which is not meant for public consumption but for use in-house in correcting and making changes before the final version is approved. This type of proof is generally rare, though often not much to look at.

Wraps or wrappers - The cover of a paperback book.

Boards - The hard cover of... well... a hardcover.

First Edition Points

Different publishers use different methods of indicating first printings. Some use a "First Edition" or "First Printing" statement, others use a numberline. Since this website is about collecting the works of Charles Bukowski let's stick to Black Sparrow Press first edition points.

Black Sparrow made it really easy to identify their first printings. First, the title page will always be printed in two or more colors on a first printing but will be printed in black (and screens of black) in later printings and, second, first printings will have a colophon at the back of the book with design, printing and binding information which is usually absent from later printings. Later printings will also have a printing statement on the copyright page while first printings do not.

Early Black Sparrow books were released in a paperback issue, a hardcover numbered and signed issue, and a hardcover numbered, signed and illustrated issue. As you can see looking through this site, the book cloth used in the different hardcover issues varied and typically used one or more of the same colors as the cover design. Starting in 1974 with Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame the press added a hardcover trade issue and in 1982, with the publication of Ham On Rye, the hardcover, signed, lettered, illustrated issue was born. In addition there were varying numbers of Presentation Copies, Printers Copies, Authors Copies and so on. The signed issues (before Pulp) were always signed and numbered, lettered or otherwise designated at the colophon. The illustrated issues had an original painting, drawing or serigraph tipped or bound-in following the title page. The signed and numbered issues were usually numbered "XXX" while the illustrated and numbered issues were numbered "XXX / XXX." There are some exceptions but this was the general set-up. If it seems confusing, well, it is, sort of... but there is a certain logic and structure to it all.

Forgeries

Over the last few years, with the rise in value of signed Bukowski titles, we are starting to see some forgeries of Bukowski's signature turn up on ebay. Luckily, most of these are pretty bad and easy to spot, and most sellers will withdraw the item when notified that the signature is suspect. If you're new to collecting Bukowski I would recommend that you look at some of the signatures throughout this site and familiarize yourself with them. If you are thinking about bidding on a Bukowski item on ebay, but you think the signature might be fake, log-on to the forum at bukowski.net and post a question about it in the "Buy/sell/trade, want lists, eBay" section. There are several of us there who are quite good at spotting fakes.

Links

A couple of very good general articles on book collecting can be found here:

http://www.abaa.org/books/abaa/abaapages/collecting

http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/collecting/